What are the types of physical child abuse and how can you spot the signs?

What are the types of physical child abuse and how can you spot the signs?

Posted on Jan 25, 2016

Child abuse



There are four types of abuse; neglect, emotional, physical and sexual. It’s important to know the different types so you can spot the signs and report accurately to safeguarding lead/social services should you suspect child abuse is happening.


Physical child abuse

It’s important to notice instances where a child has injuries that do not match up to the explanation.


Possible signs of physical child abuse



From time-to-time every child gets bumps and bruises; it’s part of play so it can be difficult to tell the different between an accidental bruise and an inflicted bruise.

  • Bruises in soft areas; cheeks, abdomen, back, buttocks
  • Bruises to eyes – especially both eyes
  • Bruises that show the child was trying to defend themselves- back of hands, back of legs
  • Clusters of bruises
  • Hand/weapon shaped bruises


Burns or scalds

There are a number of different types of burns and scalds such as; hot liquids, hot objects, flames and chemical and electrical burns.

  • Burns of the hands, back, shoulders or buttocks.
  • Scalds on arms and legs
  • Burns and scalds that have a clear edge
  • Burns in the shape of an implement, like a cigarette



Bite marks can show up as circular/oval bruising, but may also break the skin. It’s important to look at the size of the bruise to indicate whether the bite was inflicted by an adult or a child.


Fractures/Broken bones

Broken bones do happen, but usually to children of a school-age. If a baby or toddler has a broken bone – this should be an immediate cause for concern.

Fractures to ribs and the face are also uncommon.  As always, be aware of children that have regular fractures.



Although children can be sickly, it’s important you’re aware of symptoms that suggest poisoning such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizures

Respiratory problems can also be a side effect from drowning and suffocation.


Remember, there are other types of abuse - emotional, physical and sexual abuse. We will be looking at the signs of these types of abuse in the next couple of weeks.


Don’t forget: The common behaviours of a child who has been/is being abused are:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Self-harming
  • Thoughts about suicide
  • Obsessive behaviours
  • Aggression
  • Soiled clothing
  • Eating disorders or changes in eating habits
  • Sleeping trouble, nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Risky behaviour, including drugs and alcohol
  • Absence from school
  • Withdrawal or clinginess


Action to take if you suspect child abuse

If you suspect child abuse, don’t ignore it. Report it to your manager/safeguarding lead immediately. If your organisation doesn't have one, consider contacting children’s social care or the police on 999.


At flick we offer affordable child protection training that covers what child abuse is, how it affects child development, what to do and how to react to a disclosure, how to report concerns and what your legal duty and responsibility is as someone who works with children and young people.


Our level 2 accredited child protection course covers key points from:


  • Working together to safeguard children (2015) in England
  • Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 in Wales
  • National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014)
  • Co-operating to safeguarding children (2003) in Northern Ireland
  • Keeping Safe in Education (2019).



Free signs of child abuse - staff posters



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